Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer Movie Preview: 2007

It's never to early to start looking ahead at all the good movies we have coming our way. Yes, I know that technically the summer of 2006 isn't even over yet, but really, there's not much more to be excited about (with the possible exception of Will Ferrell's "Talladega Nights"). So let's set our sights on next summer, shall we? I think it's shaping up to be one of the better summer movie schedules in recent memory; here's the calendar of noteworthy upcoming films (dates are subject to change):
  • Spider-man 3--May 4
  • Shrek the Third--May 18
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (title will likely change)--May 25
  • Ocean's Thirteen (minus Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones)--June 8
  • Fantastic Four 2 (this is here for you, Jon)--June 15
  • Evan Almighty (with Steve Carell reprising his jerky newsanchor)--June 22
  • Ratatouille (Pixar's latest)--June 29
  • The Transformers--July 4
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix--July 13
  • The Simpsons--July 27
  • The Bourne Ultimatum--August 3
  • Rush Hour 3--August 10

I'm certain that there are a few of you out there that are tired of the predictible slate of sequels and TV-to-big-screen adaptations, but really...when you look at that list, you're telling me there isn't at least one movie that you're not excited about? I think not!

Any summer slate which includes Spidey, Cap'n Jack, Harry Potter, and Jason Bourne is FINE BY ME. So which of next year's big movies are you most excited about?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Poseidon" a guilty pleasure

I think you know what I'm talking about; a guilty pleasure is a movie that you enjoy despite your better judgment. There are a number of guilty-pleasure movie categories; I've broken it down below:
  • Morally offensive: movies you like, even though officially you're offended by them (Wendy's would be "Dirty Dancing")
  • Monster movies: where the only surprise is to guess which character gets eaten next ("Alien vs. Predator")
  • Dumb comedy: movies that play on your most juvenile tendencies, but you can't resist to love ("Tommy Boy," "Nacho Libre")
  • Disaster movies: whose sole purpose exist to feed our innate desire to see things destroyed ("Poseidon" fits in this category)

There are a few things that you should expect going into almost any disaster movie: first, don't expect for any serious character development. Disaster movie actors consider themselves lucky if their characters have a name, let alone a personality. Second, disaster movies are survival movies, which means that once the destruction ends, so does the movie. As long as you're comfortable with these rules, you'll like "Poseidon."

As directed by Wolfgang Petersen (director of "Troy" and "The Perfect Storm"), "Poseidon" has several enjoyably intense action sequences. The sets are pretty amazing (you don't even realize until halfway-in that they've been walking on the ceilings for most of the movie), and the visual effects are impressive and effective. It's a good thing too; that's about all there is to recommend about the movie.

The cast consists of several former A-list stars (Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss), as well as some up-and-coming B-listers (Josh Lucas, Emmy Rossum), none of which gets to do much more than run and swim from danger, and occasionally look concerned when the camera focuses on their faces. They are paper-thin characters with next-to-zero by way of character-development. But man do they look good wet!

The dialogue is a work of disaster-movie magic, and exists only to fill the space between the next big action scene. At one point, one of the disposable females says to Richard Dreyfuss: "How bad is it?" (She's apparently oblivious to the hundreds of dead bodies strewn across the ship, several of which she has climbed over.) Dreyfuss looks at her (with concern in his face, of course) and responds: "It's pretty bad." My thoughts exactly; "Poseidon" is a true guilty pleasure. (**1/2 out of four)

What are your favorite guilty pleasure movies?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

Finally, a summer movie that lives up to its hype; the second "Pirates" is everything I'd expect from a summer popcorn movie. It's one of those sequels that expects not only that you have seen and remember the first movie (and rewards you for it), but it also expects that you enjoyed it. So by way of disclaimer, if you haven't seen or didn't like the first "Pirates" movie, this one probably isn't for you. Otherwise, you're going to love it.

Let's start with the production values: this is one of those big-budgeted movies that shows every single penny on-screen. It really looks like it must have cost $200 million to make; the costumes, sets, locations--all exotic. Then there are the visual effects, which in some scenes really blew me away. Just the amount of detail amazes me, from the wonderfully unique designs of Davy Jones' ship and crew all the way down to the seemingly simple things, like the rust on the gates of the jail, etc. Although this is clearly a fantasy, this pirate world feels very authentic. Some have complained that the special effects (which, granted, are more abundant in this installment) are distracting and gratutitous. I disagree; the movie is beautiful to watch, and the effects are important to the integrity of the story. The movie feels epic on every level.

The story this time is a bit more complex, with a myriad of characters and subplots winding around each other. This usually works to the film's advantage; there is so much story to tell that there isn't enough time to belabor any particular plot-point or linger in one location for too long. Occasionally some of the characters speak in heavy accents that are difficult to understand (made me wish I had my DVD remote for some subtitles), and there are a few too many characters to keep track of. Overall, however, the storytelling is pretty straightforward, with every separate story coming together for a thrilling (though lengthy) series of climactic action scenes; I found myself smiling through most of the last 30 minutes.

Beyond the action and effects, the story continues and advances the storylines of our three main characters: Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) have been separated and forced to track down Captain Jack Sparrow (the great Johnny Depp) in order to preserve their freedom and finally marry. Captain Jack, however, is dealing with his own demons (literally), and can't seem to escape his pirate tendencies. The entire cast is first rate, but once again, this is Johnny Depp's movie, and never lets Captain Jack into an irritating, predictable, or boring character. As with the first movie, you're not sure whether he's a good or bad character, but he's always likable. I think he's one of the most unique and memorable characters in the movies today.

The movie does end in a cliffhanger, which may upset some. But the film does such a great job of keeping your attention (for nearly three hours, I might add) that I would have been willing to jump right into part 3. Gratefully, the wait for the next installment is less than a year, around Memorial Day of next year.

If you can't tell by now, I really liked this movie. While not a perfect film, it's almost everything that I would hope for out of a fantasy-pirate-action-comedy-summer event movie, and for that reason, I'm giving it four stars. Having seen it now, I can predict with confidence that it will not only be the biggest movie of the summer, but likely the year, and deservedly-so. It's probably not the most important movie of the year, but it's definitely the most fun. (**** out of four)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Movie Reviews: "Superman" and "Devil"
  • "Superman Returns"--After 19 years of big-screen absence, I have to say that the caped crusader's return wasn't quite as gripping as I had hoped it would be, especially coming from the director of one of film's best comic book movies ("x2"). That said, the movie is entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking, and visually stunning. The acting is adequate, and although no one actor botches the job altogether, I don't feel like anyone really improves on the original performances by Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, or Gene Hackman. The fault may be in the script, which wants to focus more on Superman as a God/Christ figure (the parallels are almost distracting) than it does on the classic Superman mythology. (I found it especially frustrating during the final 20 minutes, which almost completely abandons the fascinating love triangle between Clark/Lois/Superman.) In the movie's defense, the action is thrilling, the special effects are convincing, and the overall package is more satisfying than the most recent "X-Men" movie. It's a fun movie, and one that lays a decent foundation for a new era of Superman films. Now if director Bryan Singer can make his "Superman" sequel as terrific as his second "X-Men" movie was, we're in for a super-treat... (*** out of four)
  • "The Devil Wears Prada"--There is really only one thing that I can recommend about this movie, and it's probably the only reason anyone is going to see it: Meryl Streep. As Miranda Priestley, the horribly-wicked editor of fashion's most influential magazine, Streep is pitch perfect. She doesn't allow her character to deteriorate into a simple caricature, but rather infuses her with a fascinating and entertaining depth. In fact, whenever she is not onscreen, I found my mind wandering. (Streep may just be on her way to another Oscar nomination; Oscar voters love it when serious actors do comedy and do it well.) Oh, the coming-of-age story about Andy (Anne Hathaway) is ok, but anytime she's not interacting with Streep's character, you're wishing she was. Make no mistake, this film is an unadulterated chick-flick, and never pretends to be anything else. In that regard, it's pleasant enough. Not great, but good enough for a matinee. (**1/2 out of four)